Beyond: Two Souls
What if you had a paranormal entity attached to you for practically your entire life? An entity that you didn't have complete control over and because of that made people perceive you as an experiment instead of an individual. How would that define your life? Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls poses the question with protagonist Jodie, voiced and modeled after actress Ellen Page. Jodie hasn't known a life without her supernatural companion, Aiden.
Jodie's experience with the paranormal is downright scary, as Aiden isn't the only thing haunting her. The bigger picture is unclear, and unfolds alongside her personal and professional struggles. Beyond: Two Souls opens with Jodie explaining she was born with a strange gift to see what no person has ever been able to see. However, Jodie is at an impasse; her memories are mixed up and she needs to put all of them in order to remember her journey.
From this point on, the timeline shifts to different points in Jodie's life from ages eight to twenty-three. They don't play out chronologically, but that's a strength, as it feels like you're getting snapshots of Jodie's life and piecing together the person she's become. The shuffled memories add intrigue, hooking you to play more. In my demo, I saw Jodie in her days before she became property of The Department of Paranormal Activities to her decision to join the CIA and finally becoming a fugitive on the run from the government.
While the gameplay mimics Heavy Rain's QTEs, the key new gameplay element is switching between Jodie and Aiden. With a press of triangle, you take control of Aiden, and with R1, you decide what to interact with. Different situations use the controls in different ways. In CIA training, it was about using the right stick to throw punches in either direction, running to cover points by looking out by holding down a specific button, and pressing R1 quickly to fire a gun before your chance passed. Some sequences come down to Aiden and how much chaos you want to cause, with the options to play tricks on people or decide how long to choke those doing Jodie harm. The challenge of not letting Aiden's anger get the best of him is constant.
The different memories have plenty of variety. I had flashbacks that focused on Jodie's emotional struggles as a child, like trying to fit in at a party with other teenagers. These alternated with high-speed chases, including evading police dogs through a forest and maneuvering a motorbike to blow past the cops. In another memory, I entered a research building where vicious entities killed everyone they could get their hands on. As Jodie slowly walks through the building, the anxiety of what's in store gets in your head; Jodie finds corpses along the way and using Aiden, you can see the last moments of their lives, obliterated by these unseen forces. It adds to the tension, and the memory even has some unexpected moments that caused me to jump, reminding of a survival horror game.
Plenty of sequences have a chance for you to fail, where Jodi ends up getting caught. Luckily, you have Aiden at your side, who can break you free. If you are caught, you do miss out on some action sequences. In one train scene, I got caught by not getting out of a window fast enough, so I was locked in a train car where I had to outsmart guards to escape. I replayed the same scenario, and this time got out of the window fast enough, which led to Jodie being chased by the cops on top of the train.
Beyond is at its best when it's focusing on Jodie's emotional plight. Ellen Page's natural performance with the tone of her voice changing depending on the situation enhances the emotions that Jodie's feeling. Some of the more grounded scenes are hard to watch, such as seeing Jodie get teased as a young girl, called "monster" and "witch," and watching her parents, especially her father, abandon her. All the while, the innocent young girl never asked for any of this. Each time she gets called a vulgar name, it's striking, even making me feel as if I was the one being punished. The empathy for Jodie is created perfectly, and the game even challenges you with how far you'll go for her. In one memory, I had the choice to take revenge on the teasing kids by using Aiden or I could just walk away. Either way you play the scene, the pain echoes.
I'll admit I walked into this skeptical. While I adored Heavy Rain, I had some issues with its plot holes and some of the characters. However, I came away from the first hours of Beyond: Two Souls much more positive than I expected. Sometimes the narrative tried to manipulate my emotions with over-the-top scenes that I found hard to believe, but those were few and far between. On the other side, sometimes scenes get it so right that you almost forgive those few blemishes, like if you decide to let teenage Jodie go in for a kiss. Hopefully, the rest of the tale is as satisfying as these opening moments, because I can't wait to see how the rest of the story unfolds.